More than half of public want fewer charities, research finds

18 May 2012 News

More than half of the public think there are too many charities and want the sector to be rationalised, research carried out for the Charities Act review has shown.

Stephen Lloyd, senior partner Bates Wells and Braithwaite

More than half of the public think there are too many charities and want the sector to be rationalised, research carried out for the Charities Act review has shown.

The findings, from research conducted online among 1,004 people, were presented by charity lawyer Stephen Lloyd yesterday at the Charity Law Conference.

Lloyd, a senior partner at Bates Wells and Braithwaite who has been appointed as the expert lawyer to advise Lord Hodgson on his review of the Charities Act 2006, said their report on the review was expected to be finished by the end of July, and would be “short and pithy”.

He also gave some exclusive findings from evidence gathering from the public as part of review. He said 52.5 per cent of the public thought there were too many charities and that the sector should be rationalised.

During the panel debate, Directory of Social Change CEO Debra Allcock-Tyler challenged Lloyd on this finding.

“This question was asked so badly,” she complained. “The question started with “Some people think there are too many charities…” - this is a leading question. Even a basic numpty or an A-level student would know this.”

Periodic re-registration of charities

According to the research, the next most popular change to the charity sector among the public would be a periodic review of re-registration of charity status.

But Lloyd said this would involve costs at time when the Charity Commission’s budget was being cut:

“In real terms the income of the Charity Commission is being cut by 50 per cent,” said Lloyd. “But it is dealing with expanding responsibilities.”

Lloyd noted that many charities such as student unions, which were formerly exempt, were becoming registered charities and mooted whether the threshold for registration would have to be raised.

He also said that exempt charity status, which had been dwindling, was expanding again with the arrival of academies.

Saying that there was a “black hole” in Charity Commission finances, Lloyd also warned that if the jurisdiction of the Charity Tribunal is expanded, the Charity Commission could spend all its money on just fighting cases at the Tribunal:

“The Charity Commission has had to pay a lot of legal fees in recent cases at the Tribunal,” Lloyd warned. “It will be a major cost if more cases go to the Tribunal.”

The charity law review will look at the range of Charity Commission decisions which are appealable to the Charity Tribunal.

The panel at the conference, which also comprised Rosamund McCarthy, Christine Rigby and Lindsay Driscoll from law firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite as well as Debra Allcock Tyler, all expressed concern around funding of the Charity Commission.

Charities ombudsman

Elsewhere, Driscoll said a charities ombudsman was needed, saying that the Charity Commission got many calls from the public on complaints about service delivery from charities:

“But it’s outside the Charity Commission’s jurisdiction,” she said. “A charities ombudsman and a charity conciliation service is needed.”

Lloyd said many members of the public did believe that the Charity Commission could intervene in issues around service delivery by charities.

Allcock-Tyler also queried whether Lord Hodgson was committed to asking the sector what they thought as part of his charity law review, noting that the DSC was not approached about it.

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